Dow paid U.S. firms to spy on Bhopal activists: Wikileaks emailsPRISCILLA JEBARAJ
ven as Dow Chemicals has resisted all compensation claims with regard to the Union Carbide gas leak disaster in Bhopal, it found the money to hire an intelligence research firm to intensively monitor all NGOs and activists working on the issue.
On Monday, Wikileaks released a cache of 5.5 million emails from the Texas-based intelligence company Stratfor, which revealed that regular monitoring reports of NGO activity as well as media coverage were sent to Dow and Union Carbide communication directors.
Dow Chemical, which bought Union Carbide in 2001, insists that it bears no responsibility to compensate victims or clean up the contaminated site of the 1984 disaster. However, these emails prove that it is still very much invested in monitoring the fallout of the disaster, and its impact on Dow's image.
A typical monitoring report begins with a round-up of all news items referencing Dow, Union Carbide or Bhopal from news wires, newspapers, television channels and news websites, both in India and abroad. It includes a comprehensive dossier on activist activity — covering court cases, online petitions, film screenings, fundraisers and publicity events, press releases, blog posts, items on message boards, emails to mailing lists, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. No event or statement seems to have been too obscure for Allis Information Management, the Michigan-based firm that prepared the monitoring reports for Dow. Intelligence analysts going so far as to track petition signers, commenters on blog posts, or those who might have retweeted a Dow-related article. Names such as Bhopal-based activists Rachna Dhingra and Satinath Sarangi find frequent mention, as well as anti-corporate pranksters, the Yes Men. In the latter part of 2011, much attention was paid to the campaign protesting Dow's sponsorship of the London Olympics.
In the lead-up to the 25th anniversary of the Bhopal disaster, Stratfor analysts also discussed the trends in activist strategies, speculating whether major NGO players would be able to connect Bhopal to the larger issue of corporate irresponsibility, the issue of "other Bhopals."
The Yes Men activists accused Dow of using "sinister spy tactics" and corporate paranoia. "These leaks seem to show that corporate power is most afraid of whatever reveals 'the larger whole' and 'broader issues', i.e., whatever brings systemic criminal behaviour to light," a Yes Men statement said on Monday.
However, while the monitoring was extensive and intensive, there does not seem to be any evidence of espionage, or of any illegal activity by Dow in this cache of emails. All the data mined by the intelligence research firm seems to be on the public domain, and openly available to any interested person.
The question Bhopal activists will be raising is why a company which can afford generous spends for such intensive data-mining against its opponents keeps the purse strings tightly shut when it comes to compensation claims demands from victims.